December 09, 2012
By David Blyweiss, M.D.
In This Issue:
- The hidden side effect of influenza vaccines
- Your best bet for staying healthy this winter
- Nature’s best remedies for cold and flu
Now that we’re in December, I have a lot of new patients who are frantic. They missed getting their flu vaccine in October and November, and are wondering if it’s too late to get one.
Well, I’ll be honest. I’m not crazy about flu shots. And today too many people are placing much more faith and reliance on them than they should.
You probably already know that the influenza virus is constantly mutating. So it’s nearly impossible to predict its form far enough in advance to create a truly effective vaccine.
But that’s not my biggest beef when it comes to annual vaccinations against the flu.
These shots come with a “side-effect” you won’t find on the warning labels: They provide a false sense of confidence. I find that once people have received their vaccine, they often don’t bother to take other preventive measures. They think they’re covered until the following year.
This leaves them wide open for colds, sore throats and yes… even strains of influenza that are resistant to the vaccine.
So when it comes to flu shots, I don’t normally recommend them unless a patient has such weakened immune system that even this little bit of protection would be better than none.
Now if you really want to protect yourself from cold and flu this winter, I have some strategies that can keep you strong, healthy and virus free…
There are a lot of misconceptions about how and why we become so susceptible to cold and flu during the winter months.
But one thing is very clear. It’s not the snow and icy temperatures that make you sick. Despite what your Mom might have told you, going outdoors with wet hair or forgetting your coat has nothing to do with it.
It’s a pretty sure thing it’s not the outdoors that causes us to catch more colds during the winter, but just the opposite.
When it’s cold outside, we tend to huddle indoors where we are in close proximity with other folks. This creates the perfect breeding ground for the spread of anything that’s contagious. Everything you touch and anyone you shake hands with can put you at risk of catching a cold.
And what about the flu?
Well, that’s a little bit of a different story. It’s not so much about being in enclosed spaces, but more about how the virus reacts to the winter air.
You see, flu viruses thrive in this type of environment. The dry, cool air keeps the tiny droplets from a cough or sneeze more buoyant, so they stay in the air longer. This makes it easier for you to breathe them in and become infected.
Since there really isn’t a way to avoid these bugs during the winter months, your best defense is to keep your immune system strong and healthy so you are better able to fight them off.
Keep your hands clean. Now you should be aware that antibacterial hand sanitizers kill bacteria, not viruses. So they aren’t going to do much to stop you from catching a cold or flu. It’s better to wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds several times a day. You can also use alcohol wipes in a pinch since they are effective at killing viruses.
Get Enough Sleep: Flu season is a bad time to compromise on getting rest. And an even worse time to give in to stress. Allowing your body to get rundown is like issuing an invitation to the flu to come and take up residence. You should try to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Feed Your Immune System: Maintaining a healthy diet, rich with fresh fruits and vegetables and low on refined sugars and saturated fats, goes a long way to keeping your immune system strong. It also helps to supplement with a high quality multi-vitamin every day.
Get Plenty of Vitamin D. My strongest recommendation for flu prevention is to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D. Studies show people who don’t get enough vitamin D are more likely to get respiratory infections like colds and flus.
Get outside midday when the sun is at its strongest. Eat foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D such as salmon, shrimp, cod and shitake mushrooms, as well as vitamin D-fortified foods. And take additional supplements as well – I recommend 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in lieu of getting that flu shot!
But what happens if, despite your best efforts, you still get sick this winter?
If you do happen to catch a cold or flu, you might be tempted to ask your doc to prescribe an antibiotic. A lot of people do. But antibiotics are useless against these viral infections.
However, there are some things you can do to reduce symptoms and recover more quickly…
Elderberry is my #1 pick to get rid of the flu quickly. This herb practically stops flu dead in its tracks by blocking viral growth. And this is great news when it comes to recovery time. Research repeatedly shows when flu sufferers take elderberry extract, it reduces fever and other symptoms about four days quicker than if they didn’t take it. All it takes is tablespoonful four times a day for 5-7 days. And don’t be fooled by lozenges and other “Elderberry remedies”. Only the liquid extract works.
Chicken soup isn’t just a myth. It really is good for colds. It turns out the ingredients help reduce the inflammatory response that triggers the release of mucus. And that’s really where a lot of cold misery comes from. All that excess mucus leads to stuffy nose, hacking, coughing and throat irritation.
When making your soup, use plenty of organic chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, turnips carrots, celery, parsnips and other veggies for maximum power.
And, you might want to make a batch, and freeze some servings – just in case you are feeling down.
Get plenty of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It’s no secret that omega-3 fatty acids improve immune function. And they may have a special role when it comes to the flu. Omega 3s increase the activity of white blood cells (phagocytes) that eat the virus up.
You can get your omega 3s by eating fresh, wild-caught fish like mackerel, salmon, herring and trout or supplementing with cold-water fish oil that contains at least 360 mg. of DHA and 540 mg. of EPA.
Armed with these tips, getting through this year’s cold and flu season will be a breeze… no flu shot required.
Schwalfenberg GK. A review of the critical role of vitamin D in the functioning of the immune system and the clinical implications of vitamin D deficiency. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2010 Sep 7. [Epub ahead of print]
Zakay-Rones Z, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9.
Zakay-Rones Z, et al. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.
Hashimoto Y, et al. Evidence for phagocytosis of influenza virus-infected, apoptotic cells by neutrophils and macrophages in mice. J Immunol. 2007 Feb 15;178(4):2448-57.
Kew S, et al. Relation between the fatty acid composition of peripheral blood mononuclear cells and measures of immune cell function in healthy, free-living subjects aged 25-72 y. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 May;77(5):1278-86.
American College Of Chest Physicians (2000, October 19). New Study Supports Chicken Soup As A Cold Remedy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2000/10/001018075252.htm